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Frustrated teacher speaks out; can new mayor fix Richmond schools?

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RICHMOND, Va. — As the eight mayoral candidates for Richmond mayor get ready to debate topics ranging from education to public transportation at the Library of Virginia, some teachers at Richmond Public Schools continue to struggle to keep up with basic classroom necessities.

According to a poll by Christopher Newport University, 35 percent of Richmond voters consider education the top priority for the next mayor.

“I was told two years ago that they would not order another projector for me, they would not order a bulb for the projector that I had, so I taught for two weeks without any technology,” a teacher at Thomas H. Henderson Middle School, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said.

Because the school does not pay for additional supplies, teachers spend money out of their own pocket for classroom materials.

The Henderson Middle School teacher said she has spent around $300 on her two classrooms this school year and even that money was stretched thin.

The school, she said, was unable to provide adequate technology for all teachers, so teachers acquired classroom technology by requesting grants.

Some teachers use duct-taped supplies and some go without, a situation the teacher believed put her students at a disadvantage.

“I guess money is tight, because technology is scarce,” she said.

Improving appearances could go a long way for the success of Henderson, she added, noting the lack of real walls or doors in some parts of the building.

She said she wouldn’t send her own children to Henderson, and knows parents who feel the same way.

“More money means better aesthetics, better aesthetics means more kids, more kids means more opportunities for success for RPS,” she said.

Ahead of the mayoral debate at the Public Square event of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, candidate Levar Stoney said that public education changed his life, having grown up in public schools.

Stoney said he planned on getting funding for public education by collecting taxes that have not been paid by residents and by using his relationships to secure funding from the state government.

“I plan on actually using my friends and some of the relationships I’ve built over the years with as former Secretary of the Commonwealth,” said Stoney.

His opponent Bruce Tyler spent six years working in finance for Richmond City Council and said he saw a lot of waste in the budget.

“There’s a lot of pet projects in the budget,” Tyler said. “The mayor puts them in and it’s tough to get them out, so we’re going to stop that.”

Mayoral candidate Jon Baliles, much like Stoney, she he believed the city needed to distribute the money from unpaid taxes to public education. His focus would be on teacher retention, and he said he believed teachers would stay if they saw money moving towards public education.

Lawrence Williams said he did not intend to raise residential taxes on the elderly or residences to address the school budget crisis.

“I think I’d like to get additional tax dollars from the business community and better assessments of the commercial real estate, now that the city is booming,” Williams said.

Candidates Jack Berry, Bobby Junes, Joe Morrissey, and Michelle Mosby did not respond to requests for interviews for this story. But in recent interviews with the editorial board of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, these candidates outlined their education agendas.

Morrissey said to the Richmond Times-Dispatch that the next mayor should be a key leader in fixing the “brick and mortar” of the schools. Berry said that cooperation within the city government is the key to rearranging the education budget and currently existing plans.

“The state needs to reevaluate the funding for impoverished and/or at-risk students,” Bobby Junes said to the newspaper. “The programs exist, you’re just going to have to pay more money.” Michelle Mosby said that she will keep a close relationship with the superintendent in order to bring the appropriate people to the table to address the issue.

By Mary Lee Clark, Pilar Curtis, Tyler Hammel, and Haley Wright (Special to WTVR.com)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story.